This is the second part of my article on the rag-tag British ‘army’ that faced the French invasion at Fishguard in February 1797. In Part 1, I covered the order of battle and the main British commanders. Today we’ll take a look at each unit involved, as well as the civilians who armed themselves to defend their homes from the French, including my namesake, the redoubtable ‘Jemima Fawr’ herself.
The Castlemartin Troop, Pembroke Yeomanry Cavalry
The Pembroke Regiment of Gentlemen Yeomanry Cavalry was formed in 1794 by Richard Philipps; Lord Milford and Lord Lieutenant for Haverfordwest and Pembrokeshire. The Pembroke Yeomanry at the time comprised two troops (each of roughly forty men) of light dragoons; one troop (the Dungleddy Troop) based at Picton Castle, under the direct command of Lord Milford and the other (the Castlemartin Troop) based in the south-west of the county, at Stackpole Court, under the command of John Campell, Lord Cawdor. This organisation remained essentially unchanged in 1797, though Lord Milford suffered from gout and as a consequence, field command fell to Lord Cawdor.
When the invasion alarm was raised in February 1797, Lord Milford at once sent word to Cawdor to march with all haste and to assume command of the Pembroke Volunteer Infantry and the detachment of the Cardiganshire Militia guarding Pembroke Prison, and to bring the combined force at once to Haverfordwest. By sheer luck, Cawdor’s Castlemartin Troop was already formed and ready to march to Haverfordwest for a funeral that was to have been held there the following day and as a result, the Castlemartin Troop, along with the Pembroke Volunteers and Cardiganshire Militia, were in Haverfordwest by dawn of the 23rd. History does not record what happened to the Dungleddy Troop – a likely explanation is that they were perhaps used as gallopers to spread the news of the French invasion? Or perhaps they were simply late?
Uniform for the Pembroke Yeomanry was the same that of the Light Dragoon regiments of the regular Army, being a short, dark blue ‘dolman’ jacket, with white breeches and a crested ‘Tarleton’ helmet. The dolman had pale buff facings with white lace (silver lace for officers). The helmet had a black turban, wound with silver chains, and a white-over-red plume on the left side.
The regimental guidon was, made of pale blue silk, with embroidery in silver wire. This is curious, as guidons would typically be of the regimental facing colour (in this case pale buff). Nevertheless, this is confirmed by a surviving Castlemartin Troop guidon which was issued in 1803. The main device was the Prince of Wales’ Feathers, with ‘Loyal Pembroke’ in a handwritten script, split either side of the central feather and ‘YEOMNRY’ (spelled wrong!) immediately below the feathers. At the bottom, a crimson-coloured oval, edged in silver, displays the Troop title ‘CASTLE/MARTIN’ (split into two words).The Pembroke Yeomanry was belatedly given the battle honour ‘Fishguard 1797’ by Queen Victoria in 1853 and it remains the only battle honour awarded to the British Army for an action on the British mainland. They are still in existence today, as 224 (Pembroke Yeomanry) Squadron, Royal Logistics Corps (Volunteer) of the Territorial Army, based at Haverfordwest.
The Yeomanry models were heavily converted by Mr Small from Perry Miniatures’ plastic French Hussar figures. They were painted by Jemima Fawr. Somewhat annoyingly for us, Perry Miniatures have since brought out a set of plastic British Light Dragoons.
The Cardiganshire Militia
The Cardiganshire Militia, like all County Militia Regiments in Britain, was raised from men who were conscripted by holding a ballot for all eligible men in each parish. Drafted men would then serve with the Militia for five years. In peace-time, this was not too onerous, as the Militia would only be called up for a few weeks training in each year. However, in wartime the Militia was permanently mobilised and Militia would often find themselves posted for years to far-flung corners of the country (though Parliament was never permitted to send the Militia overseas – not even to Ireland).
Consequently, Militia service was generally hated and men did all they could to avoid being drafted. However, it was perfectly legal for men to nominate a substitute to serve in their place and quite large sums of money were often paid in order to persuade someone to act as a substitute. Tribunals were also held for those with extreme mitigating circumstances, such as where a draftee was the primary bread-winner in a family or where the draftee held an essential trade in the community. Thankfully, the size of each County Militia Regiment was based on the population and taxable income of the county, and as Cardiganshire (like Pembrokeshire) at the time was sparsely-populated and dirt-poor, the regiment was only 120 men strong (12% the size of a regular Regiment of Foot).
The Cardiganshire Militia in February 1796 had only just returned from two years of garrison duty in Northumberland, where they had been sent to maintain public order following repeated corn-riots. They proved to be enormously popular with the local population and enjoyed a very pleasant and uneventful tour before returning to Cardiganshire.
Upon their return, 20 men were sent to the regimental depot at Aberystwyth, where they were to train the new Militia draft, as well as the 250 or so new ‘Supplementary Militia’ men who had just been raised following Pitt’s Supplementary Militia Act of 1796. The regimental headquarters meanwhile went to Haverfordwest, while the remaining 100 men, under the command of Lieutenant-Adjutant Edward Cole, were sent to Golden Prison in Pembroke, where they would be responsible for guarding French and Spanish prisoners of war, as well as for mounting anti-smuggling patrols around the coast. When the invasion alert came, Lt Coles’ detachment was relieved by a detachment of the Pembrokeshire Supplementary Militia, allowing the Cardiganshire Militia to march north with Lord Cawdor’s column.
The uniform of the Cardiganshire Militia was rather old-fashioned for the time, being of the 1768 Pattern, modified with standing collars and hooks and eyes to allow the lapels to be fastened across the chest. Headgear was a cocked hat, edged in white lace and possibly augmented with white-over-red hackles or plumes. The red coats were faced with ‘garter blue’ and singly-spaced buttonhole-lace. Officers’ metalwork was silver. The Regimental Colour is recorded as being of garter blue silk, with the arms of the Lord Lieutenant for Cardiganshire (who at the time was Wilmot Vaughan, Earl of Lisburne and whose arms are shown here). The King’s Colour was the usual Union Flag (note the lack of a red saltire at this time) and while the central device is not known, the usual pattern was a ‘Union Wreath’ surrounding the regimental title, as shown here. We also added small Prince of Wales’ Feathers device above the wreath, as this is shown on a surviving 1804 colour for the ‘Haverfordwest Fuzileers Militia’.
We decided to depict the drummer in a blue coat after seeing a surviving blue drummer’s coat for the Carmarthenshire Militia in the Royal Welsh Regiment Museum at Cardiff Castle. The drummers of blue-faced regiments would normally have heavily-laced red coats instead of ‘reversed’ colours, but Militia regiments did occasionally make up their own dress regulations (such as the Carmarthenshire example).
Unlike their comrades in the Pembroke Yeomanry, the Cardiganshire Militia did not receive the battle honour ‘Fishguard 1797’ from Queen Victoria in 1853. This was due to a technicality: they had been converted to a ‘Rifles’ regiment in 1811 and as such did not carry Colours. Battle honours were only awarded to regiments that had Colours on which to embroider them.
These are metal American War of Independence figures by The Foundry, painted by Jemima Fawr.
The Pembroke Volunteer Infantry
The Pembroke Volunteer Infantry had originally been formed in 1780, during the American War of Independence. Lieutenant Colonel John Colby had raised the corps in order to provide light infantry support for his own regiment of Pembrokeshire Militia. This was no doubt prompted by a number of successful American privateer raids on the British coast, including a raid on Fishguard in 1779. The Pembroke Volunteers were disbanded at the end of that war in 1783, but were resurrected again in 1794, due a renewed threat of invasion – this time by Revolutionary France.
Service in the Volunteer corps was fairly popular, as six months’ good service with the Volunteers exempted a man from the Militia Ballot. As a result, some Volunteer corps became little more than badly-disciplined bands of armed draft-dodgers, though the Pembroke Volunteers, with the direct association to the Pembroke Militia and Colby’s good leadership, seem to have been better than most.
In 1797 the Pembroke Volunteers numbered 120 men, under the command of Captain James Ackland of Llanion House. We know that they were once again trained as light infantry and when the invasion alarm came, we know that they met up with Lord Cawdor’s column at Pembroke Ferry and joined the march north to Fishguard. Unfortunately, we know almost nothing else about them and despite our best efforts, we have been completely unable to discover any more details regarding the Pembroke Volunteer Infantry.
The lack of information makes modeling the Pembroke Volunteers somewhat difficult, as we don’t know anything about their uniforms or flags. However, given their close association to Colby and the Pembrokeshire Militia, we have given them the Pembrokeshire Militia distinctions of bright blue facings, with gold officers’ metalwork. The Colours again, are entirely conjectural, though are based on the colours carried by other Welsh Volunteer corps, which invariably featured the Prince of Wales’ Feathers and the regimental title somewhere in the design.
The models are metal ‘Wellington in India’ figures by Redoubt Miniatures and were painted by Jemima Fawr.
The Fishguard & Newport Volunteer Infantry
The Fishguard & Newport Volunteer Infantry, commanded by the young Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Knox, had been raised in 1793. In 1797 they numbered some 270 men, grouped into two ‘divisions’, each of two companies – one division each for the towns of Fishguard and Newport. As such, this was one of the largest Volunteer corps in the country and seems to have thrived under Knox’s leadership, despite the politics and subsequent scandal.
Note that most accounts wrongly describe these men as ‘Fencibles’ and it must be emphasised that they were ‘Volunteers’ and not ‘Fencibles’. Fencibles were full-time, regular troops, raised for service within the British Isles. Volunteers were raised under an entirely different Act of Parliament and were part-timers who served within their own locality. The only Pembrokeshire Fencible unit was the Pembrokeshire Regiment of Fencible Light Dragoons, which at this time was engaged in Ireland. Despite what most accounts claim, no Fencible regiments were directly involved in the Fishguard invasion. Even Cawdor himself described the Volunteers as ‘Fencibles’, but it should be remembered that he was not a professional soldier and may simply have been unaware of the difference.
It should also be noted that the Fishguard & Newport Volunteers were a formed regiment of smart, red-coated soldiers, armed with muskets and bayonets and virtually indistinguishable from the regular Army. They were not the pitchfork-armed mob of civilians depicted in popular myth (and on Pembrokeshire County Council’s Fishguard webpage)! There certainly were armed civilians at Fishguard, but they were not the Volunteers, who were soldiers, not civilians!
The uniform of the Fishguard & Newport Volunteers was described as a ‘striped’ (i.e. laced) cut-down coat, worn with a slouched hat, turned up on the left with a leek allegedly worn as a plume and a white strip of cloth bearing the Prince of Wales’ motto ‘Ich Dien’ (German for ‘I Serve’) worn in front of the black cockade. An officer’s uniform in the Pembrokeshire Museum Service collection, is scarlet, with white collar and cuffs, silver buttons and lace, red waistcoat and light infantry details. We have used Perry Miniatures metal figures to represent the Volunteers. As the leek-plume seems somewhat fanciful, we have conjecturally given them ‘leek-like’ green-and-white plumes.
No colours are recorded, though it was typical for Volunteer corps to carry colours, so we have conjecturally given colours to each division. The King’s Colour (the Union Flag) is of the regulation pattern, with the wreathed regimental title in the centre and surmounted by the Prince of Wales’ Feathers. The Regimental Colour would normally be in the regimental ‘facing’ colour (i.e. the coat-lining, which shows at collar, cuffs and lapels), but regiments with white, red or black facings always carried a red St George’s cross on a white field, as shown here.
These are metal American War of Independence figures by Perry Miniatures, painted by Jemima Fawr.
The Royal Navy and Revenue Service
After the Fishguard & Newport Volunteer Infantry, the next military units to react were those of the Royal Navy and Revenue Service in Milford Haven and Haverfordwest. The Revenue Cutter ‘Diligence’, commanded by Lieutenant William Dobbins, had been pursued by Castagnier’s flotilla, but had managed to evade pursuit in the dangerous reefs around St David’s Head. Racing to Milford Haven, Dobbins managed to raise the alarm, spurring Captain Stephen Longcroft (Regulating Captain of Milford Haven & Haverfordwest) into action. While messengers were sent out to raise the alarm, Longcroft ordered the crew of the cutter ‘Speedwell’ to dismount their guns (eight long naval 9-pounders – the same type seen today at Fishguard Fort) and to load them into commandeered hay-carts. The crews of a number of small naval vessels, as well as the local Royal Navy press-gangs were then formed into an armed column of some 140 men and ordered to march immediately for Haverfordwest.
Upon arrival at Haverfordwest, five of the guns were ordered to be mounted on the bastions of Haverfordwest Castle, while the remaining three guns and the bulk of the sailors joined Lord Cawdor’s march north to Fishguard. The majority of these men would have been hardened veterans from the long wars against France and Spain and would have experienced fighting on land, as well as shipboard actions. These tough men were unquestionably the most effective troops available to Lord Cawdor. In the photo above we see an officer supervising the dismounting of the guns. Note that the sailors would also take timber and tackle ashore to establish good firing-platforms for their naval guns.
These figures were heavily converted by Mr Small from plastic Perry Miniatures American Civil War figures, as well as Victrix plastic French Napoleonic infantry. The guns are metal models by Redoubt Miniatures.
The Loyal Haverfordwest Volunteers
While a great multitude of armed civilians were making their own way to Fishguard in unofficial ‘Volunteer’ units, some did so on an official basis as official Volunteer Regiments, officially constituted at very short notice and with officers formally commissioned by their county Lords Lieutenant (the King’s representative in each county, who was responsible for commissioning Militia, Volunteer, Fencible and Yeomanry officers within the county).
One such unit was the Loyal Haverfordwest Volunteer Infantry, which was hastily formed on the 23rd February and followed Cawdor’s column to Fishguard. Accounts vary, but the unit had approximately 200 men, organised into three companies. Major Joshua Roch, a wealthy Pembrokeshire landowner, was commissioned to command the unit, while William Bowen, George Roch and Richard Foley were appointed to command the companies.
We know absolutely nothing more about the unit, but can safely say that this was no orderly, uniformed militia! Some men were ex-Army and may have worn their old uniforms, while others may have been issued with uniforms taken from the Pembrokeshire Militia and Royal Navy depots in the town, as well as the Cardiganshire Militia Regimental Headquarters, which was also present. The majority however, would have undoubtedly worn civilian clothes, perhaps with a fieldsign such as a strip of cloth worn on the arm or around the hat.
We opted for the Canadian ‘Sedentary Militia’ figures for the War of 1812 by Knuckleduster Miniatures, painting the officers and NCOs in Pembrokeshire Militia colours of red coats faced bright blue, with gold metalwork for officers. The flag is a simple bedsheet on a pikestaff, painted with the patriotic slogan ‘Ein Duw, Ein Gwlad, Ein Brenin’ (Our God, Our Country, Our King’), which was actually used on the colours of the Cowbridge Volunteers of the period.
Jemima Nicholas (‘Jemima Fawr’) & Friends
Jemima Nicholas was a six-foot tall, 19-stone cobbler from Fishguard. She was known locally as ‘Jemima Fawr’, which is usually translated into the romantic and heroic ‘Great Jemima’, but it could equally be taken to mean ‘Big Jemima’. Aged 41 when the French landed, she was already well-known for breaking up bar-fights in the town, so it was no surprise to anyone when she went out with her hay-fork and came back with twelve drunken French prisoners, who she locked in St Mary’s Church, before heading out to find more!
While this story is almost certainly true, there are lots more legends surrounding Jemima and the local womenfolk generally. In particular, it is often said that Jemima organised the women into an armed militia and, in their fashionable tall stovepipe hats, red woollen shawls and white aprons, marched round and round the hill behind what is now Fishguard High School, in order to fool the French (observing from Carnwnda, across the valley), that they were British Army ‘Redcoats’. However, there is no actual evidence that this ever took place and there are quite a few actual pieces of evidence that go towards disproving this legend. For one, Lord Cawdor actually ordered his aide, Captain William Davies, to manoeuvre the troops in order to give a false impression of strength, so it is entirely likely that the actions of Captain Davies have been misattributed to Jemima.
Secondly, the British Army did not wear stovepipe hats until 1800 at the earliest, so the theory that the Welsh ladies’ headgear resembled Army headgear is not true for 1797. Third, the French didn’t consider surrender until after they had been engaged by Lord Cawdor’s column. Fourth, Lord Cawdor recorded that he was most surprised, to see a body of around 400 armed women at the French surrender parade; so while they were certainly present at the surrender, his surprise would tend to indicate that this was the first time he’d seen or heard of the ‘Welsh Amazons’.
Whatever the truth of the legend, it’s impossible for us to do this project without including Welsh ladies, so Mr Small has modeled a selection of Pembrokeshire ‘Ladies’ and their menfolk doing unspeakable things to Frenchmen with pitchforks, rakes, axes, clubs, rocks, cleavers, scythes and chamber-pots… Much as our wives do to us, in fact…